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Sounding out school security
The provision of security personnel to the education sector has been historically centred on those establishments that are in the further and higher education sectors, colleges, and universities. Schools however with the exception of the public school sector, have had to rely mainly on what is termed within the security industry as ‘physical security’ gates, fences, and turnstiles usually supported by some means of electronic security equipment such as access control and intruder alarm systems.
As we are all aware, educational establishments at primary and secondary school level rely on funding from the local education authority and it times of austerity budgets are tight, and as should be expected, what little additional funds there are, are better put to use providing teaching aids to enhance the students learning rather than providing for their security. In colleges and universities the security of the students is mainly funded from the fees charged to attend courses.
In researching for this article to look at the government’s standpoint I could not find any definitive policy with much of the funding strategy being focused on the building of new schools and maintenance of existing facilities. Research also noted that the last research by the Department for Education was carried out by Richard Lloyd and Charlene Ching from GHK in April 2003, and the guidance for schools was originally published in 1996 and updated in 2012.
The research project undertaken by Lloyd and Ching identified a number of key findings into school security concerns.
LEAs reported their key security concern as the personal safety of staff, pupils and visitors to schools premises.
“External” incidents, including intrusion to school premises, vandalism, arson and burglary, were ranked higher in all incidents compared with “internal” threats. Intrusion was seen as the greatest of these concerns.
In addition to LEAs and schools, those who played a key role in school security included the police, fire service, providers (insurers, equipment providers and maintenance contractors), consultants and community representatives. The benefit of a multi‑agency approach was emphasised. You will notice that there is no mention of private security companies.
The guideline itself concentrates on the “Improvement of Security in Schools” following the tragic incidents of the 1990s; the fatal stabbing of Headmaster Phillip Lawrence and the other incidents in St Luke’s School and Dunblane. But as stated the cost of providing appropriate security measures is often prohibitive and does not form part of the schools ‘security strategy’.
Colleges and universities however do not necessarily have the same restrictions and employ contract security personnel to be on the premises 24/7. Each college and university will have their own set procedures that they will require their contracted provider to follow and the provider in return will have their own company procedures that they will require their employees to follow, so no confusion for the staff there.
Buying security staff
So what are the key facts to consider when employing security staff within a college or university environment?
Firstly, the contractor should be on the register of SIA Approved Contractors. Plus all personnel provided should hold appropriate licences for the functions they are required to carry out e.g. if they are required to monitor CCTV they must hold CCTV operators licences, if there is a bar in the university or college a door supervisors licence. You should also consider, what do you as the purchaser want from the supplier?
Some of the issues that arise from educational establishments that security staff are expected to deal with – which often leaves them feeling marginalised – are being subject to abusive behaviour from students, dealing with alcohol abuse, drug usage, students fighting, having to follow site rules, dealing with intruders, handling lost and stolen property, dealing with items of found property and dealing with accidents and emergencies very often with limited resources. This is all in addition to monitoring CCTV cameras, abiding by the principles of the Data Protection Act regarding capturing of images.
Daily security problems
My colleagues that currently supply security personnel to colleges have provided me with what they consider to be an average days problems faced by their staff. This includes access control, where students forget their ID cards, and have to be issued with temporary cards resulting in the distraction from the initial roll of controlling access to the site.
- Students not following college rules, particularly in relation to smoking in non‑designated areas, leading to abusive behaviour.
- Dealing with excessive noise levels as students arrive for the day, trying to maintain levels at a suitable level so as not to disturb others.
- Dealing with stress levels as doors have not been unlocked due to a lack of communication from the college staff, but they are not to blame, security are meant to be mind readers and have crystal balls.
- Students reporting lost or stolen items requiring CCTV footage to be reviewed.
- Patrolling of the external perimeter of the establishment, as well as internal patrols, and providing support to staff.
- Where the facility has an on-site bar, dealing with alcohol abuse, unauthorised visitors let in by students who do not actually know them.
- Drug use and alcohol being brought on to site.
- Failures by students in following procedures i.e. lock down of entrances resulting in students climbing gates and fences, which have led to impalement on the fences.
- Female students are often the most vulnerable, and may be subject to being followed outside of the premises and not being within the security companies remit, resulting in the student being attacked, and although they are away from the premises it does not mean that the security company will not be accused of failing to protect the student.
- Dealing with students being stalked by other students.
This is not an exhaustive list and often has to be dealt with by a reduced number of staff due to financial restraints. And this is not forgetting that each incident, accident, review of CCTV footage and report of lost or stolen property needs to be recorded properly.
The right security
Providing security to an educational establishment is a specialist function that requires a certain type of security officer, one who can deal with situations under pressure yet still remain calm, methodical in their approach and above all able to deal with people professionally.
The use of CCTV systems is of course an aid to security in the protection of the property and if used correctly can reduce the number of frontline staff required, as the system can be used to patrol the corridors, external perimeter and provide invaluable evidence following an incident. However; CCTV is only as good as the Operator and to be effective needs to be monitored at all times, this then ensures that incidents are dealt with in real time and can be responded to. CCTV usage requires the owner to comply with guidelines and the Data Protection Act in relation to the capturing and storage of images. It is the responsibility of the educational establishment to ensure that the act is complied with. It should also be remembered that students, staff, and visitors might request to see any footage that they believe contains images of themselves under the Freedom of Information Act.
Thanks to Karen Barnett Managing Director of DPG Security Ltd, Edward Subair Operations Manager All Security Ltd, for their valuable insight and contributions to this article.